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Think 2020's Disasters Are Wild? Experts See Worse In Future

 September 10, 2020 at 10:24 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Major wildfires are burning in Washington, Oregon, and here in California in San Diego County, more than 800 firefighters have battled the Valley fire South of Alpine. Since Saturday it's destroyed more than 50 structures and of this afternoon, it's more than 30% contain earlier this week, California, governor Gavin Newsome could not have been more clear and connecting the state's record-breaking wildfires to climate change. Speaker 2: 00:26 I have no patients and I say this lovingly, not as an ideolog, but as someone who prides himself on being opened argument interested in evidence, but I quite literally have no patience for climate change deniers. Uh, it's simply follows a completely inconsistent that point of view with the reality on the ground. Speaker 1: 00:49 Scientists have long predicted that wildfires in California and across the West will get worse as our climate warms. Joining me as part of coverage from the KPBS climate change desk is Dan tan, a climate change researcher with Scripps institution of oceanography at UC San Diego. Welcome to mid-air edition. Thanks Mark. Well, almost two and a half million acres of land have burned in California so far this year, making it a record year, nearly 20 times. What had burned at this time last year. Can you explain to us what the link between these wildfires and climate changes? It's pretty basic, right? Climate change is exacerbating the, uh, vulnerability of forested and shrubland to wildfire. And of course fires are complicated processes. And in this case, in, in the recent year, we had essentially a abrupt shutoff in the precipitation season sometime last February. And so a lot of our landscapes started to dry relatively early, and then we've not had any relief during the, the spring and summer period, coupled with some extraordinary heat waves, which we presume have been, uh, magnified by, by climate change. Speaker 1: 02:11 All of these ingredients, along with some kind of unusual ignitions in part of our California wildfire this year has, uh, had ma has made this a, you know, one for the record books, scientists for years were hesitant to link a specific weather event like a particular wildfire or a heat wave or a flood to climate change. But why is that now possible? Why is it important to do so well it's this attribution issue is still, is still complex. And I won't say that it's totally clear cut, but more and more as climate warming accumulates, it's pretty clear that parts of the landscape, a ratification, the drying that we're seeing much of the Western United States has been boosted by climate warming. And we've seen since the late 1970s we've seen increases in temperatures of probably a little more than a degree and climate models indicate that very likely that's the symptom of climate warming, anthropogenic climate change. Speaker 1: 03:29 Isn't it important that we link these events? I mean, it's about messaging to the public, is it not? Yeah. Uh, it, that's certainly a key part of that. The answer, uh, is that, um, we, we need to be further vigilant. The other thing of course is that, uh, climate change is only going in one direction and making this attribution, um, means that we're going to have, uh, these sorts of problems in the future, uh, if not equal, but, uh, perhaps, uh, escalating from what we're seeing in the recent decade. Now we had record heat last weekend, across California, San Diego County. It hit 115 in Escondido, all time high there, and LA County broke its record. I reached 121 and Woodland Hills, uh, is this the new normal regarding summertime temperatures you've talked about the direct link. This has to climate. These events are, are somewhat ephemeral and they, they occur episodically. Speaker 1: 04:35 Uh, it doesn't mean that they're, we're gonna every summer C 115 degree temperatures and in our, um, inland valleys, but it does, uh, kind of raise the bar and in the future, it's, it's quite likely that we'll see events somewhat like this as we roll forward. The other thing about these, these heat waves that is really important in driving some of this wildfire issue is they're very broad scale. So we're seeing this warmth extend from the Pacific Northwest down to Southern California and beyond. And, uh, that means that some of these wildfire events are occurring across this whole region, which of course, spreads fire, fighting resources thin. The other thing is that it makes fighting fires like what we're seeing now in the Valley fire, uh, much, much harder because of the extreme heat. We've talked about extreme heat, the fire season's much longer. Now a lot of the effects that you're describing are related to, uh, climate change and state leaders and researchers note that 90% of wildfires are caused humans. Speaker 1: 05:57 We've got 39 million people in the state. Aren't these fires inevitable when you're talking about the wild land, urban interface, all the climate elements that we've discussed and all these people doing activities every day. Yeah, I think there's a, of course ignitions are going to be hard to totally curtail I think, in the last decade or so, there has been some success in quelling. Some of this, particularly during very hot, dry and windy events, I think the most of the public is, is really on guard. Another aspect of this is, is the, uh, ignitions that are caused by, uh, infrastructure, including our utilities. And of course, they're really putting a full court press on trying to, uh, diminish the power line and so forth cause ignition. So I think we're making strides on that, but as you say, Mark, some of this is inevitable and of course that brings into, into play the fire fighting resources, which actually I think, um, are pretty impressive, uh, across, um, a lot of these landscapes. But, um, this is going to be a problem, especially in extreme weather events because it's, uh, it's really hard to, to contain fires when you got really hot and windy dry conditions going on. I've been speaking with Dan tan, the climate change researcher with Scripps institution of oceanography at UC San Diego. Thanks very much. Thanks Mark. Speaker 3: 07:46 [inaudible].

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Freak natural disasters — most with what scientists say likely have a climate change connection — seem to be everywhere in the crazy year 2020. But experts say we’ll probably look back and say those were the good old days, when disasters weren’t so wild.
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